January is a month filled with key dates for recollection by the University of the West Indies (UWI). Among them: the first meeting of the Provisional Council from January 7-9 1947; the signing of the 999-year lease for the site of the founding Mona Campus in 1951; a visit to the university by British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill in 1953, just days after the then University College of the West Indies (UCWI) celebrated its first graduation on January 13, 1953.
The first graduation saw the award of 15 degrees to students in the Faculty of Natural Sciences. These 15 included four 1st Class and seven Upper 2nd Class honours degrees. The level of achievement was applauded in a report on the progress of the new university, offered in 1954 by a Committee of Visitors headed by Dame Lillian Penson, former Vice Chancellor of the University of London: “…the College has, in our view, made a most remarkable beginning. Its six years have resulted in the establishment of an institution which bids fair to make its mark in the University world.”
The first graduating class had completed studies in June 1952. For several years, the university held its graduation ceremony early in the calendar year, to coincide with visits by the Chancellor for meetings of Council. Graduations are now held in October and November of each year at multiple locations across the Caribbean, reflecting the UWI’s multi-campus nature which has been developing since 1961. It is also worth noting that the first graduating class does not coincide with the first class matriculated. The UCWIs first 33 students were in the Faculty of Medicine, whose programme was longer than the three-year degree taken by other undergraduates.
Our next blog will focus on a January event that was not of the university, but which impacted the UCWI/UWI as it did many other people places and institutions: the centenary of the birth of UWI’s first Vice Chancellor, Sir W. Arthur Lewis on January 23, 1915.